With airline prices rising and rental cars still pricey, and hard to get, driving to your destination in your own car could be the most convenient (and affordable) way to travel for your next vacation.
With gas prices at a national average of just over $5 per gallon, you’re going to pay more than you might expect either way. But stocking your car with the latest tech gadgets to stay safe and comfortable can help you enjoy the ride.
We scoured the web and talked to travel experts to find some of the best technology you’ll want to keep in your vehicle for long trips, short commutes, and everything in between.
Some of these gadgets may even help you modernize your older vehicle if you can’t afford to buy a new car right now. Features like Qi wireless charging pads, a back-up camera or a dash cam don’t come standard on older cars but can be easily added with some affordable electronics. Some of this tech can also replace features that some newer cars are suddenly – thanks to the worldwide silicon microchip – lacking, like heated seats.
When you’re shopping for the best tech gadgets for your car, you’ll want to think about items you’ll use time and again or items that will make special trips, like family vacations, easier. If you’re tight on space, you’ll want items that stow away easily in your trunk in a storage bag, or even your glove box when not in use, leaving you plenty of room for passengers and luggage.
We’ve divided the items on this list into must-have safety gadgets, accessories for your mobile devices, and nice-to-have splurges for traveling in style.
The Arena Media Brands, LLC and respective content providers to this website may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.
Today’s tech makes it easier than ever to stay safe on the road, from cameras that expand visibility to easy-to-use flares in case you break down.
Dashboard Camera: Lanmado Vast Pro Dashcam ($369; lanmodo.com)
If you have a higher end vehicle like a Tesla (TSLA) - Get Tesla Inc. Report or BMW, it may come standard with a dashboard camera, or dash cam, for recording activity in your vehicle’s interior or, more commonly, the surrounding exterior. These can pick up instances of vandalism, show who is at fault in an accident, and give you a birds-eye view of the road ahead.
When choosing a dash cam, you’ll want to consider its field-of-view, resolution, screen size, and recording and storage capabilities. For safer evening driving, you’ll want a dash cam with full color night vision. The Lanmado Vast Pro dash cam with 1080p resolution and a 45-degree field of vision delivers. It includes front and rear view cameras and is easy to install.
Portable Tire Inflator: Fanttik X8 Apex Tire Inflator ($88.97, originally $129.97; amazon.com)
If you travel long distances, especially through rural areas or on highways with long stretches of no rest stops, you’ll want a portable tire inflator. Many of these devices, however, are bulky, taking up precious cargo space in your trunk. The Fanttik X8 Apex Tire Inflator, however, measures just under 8 inches long and 2.5 inches thick and can inflate a car tire in just six minutes.
The wireless device can operate for 40 minutes on one charge and boasts a bevy of features like a built-in LED flashlight and the ability to charge other devices.
LED Roadside Flares: VIP Cycle Road Safety Kit ($24; walmart.com)
If your vehicle breaks down, it’s handy to have an easy-to-use kit of roadside flares to let other drivers know to steer clear and to signal emergency vehicles for help. Small and affordable, yet ultrabright, this VIP Cycle road safety flare kit includes 3 waterproof LED flares with batteries in their own portable storage bag. The flares can last for up to 33 hours on low, and include 12 small LEDs around the edges for maximum visibility plus a front flashlight for added convenience.
Jumper Cable Kit: Nexpow Q9B Battery Jump Starter ($60.99, originally $159.99; walmart.com)
Decades ago you’d need a second vehicle to jumpstart your car if your battery died. But today’s portable jump starter batteries can save the day in a jiffy, even if there isn’t another person around. The five-star rated Nexpow Q9B Battery Jump Starter will power up most 12-volt gas and diesel vehicles from anywhere. It needs a charge of at least 40% to jumpstart your vehicle’s battery. Once fully charged, it holds its charge for up to three months. Better yet, the built-in dual USB ports can charge mobile devices, and 4-mode LED lights that flash blue and red are handy during an accident or a breakdown.
FIXD Diagnostic Scan Tool ($55; amazon.com)
FIXD is a handheld device that can scan your car’s computer to diagnose more than 7,000 engine fault codes, displaying the issue in plain language on your mobile device via a companion app. You can walk into a mechanic armed with knowledge or use the how-to guides in the OBD2 app to fix simple problems yourself. FIXD also tracks required maintenance like oil changes and if you purchase a FIXD Premium subscription you also gain access to live, certified mechanics who can answer questions.
Stay connected, safely, with these handy smartphone accessories for your vehicle.
CHGeek Wireless Car Charger ($32.89, originally $35; amazon.com)
If your smartphone has Qi-enabled wireless charging, an on-dash or mount charger is a necessity for short or long car trips. It puts your navigation app front and center without obscuring your vision.
With a 4.5-star overall rating and 7,611 reviews on Amazon, the CHGeek 15W Qi wireless car charger is one of the best for $33. You can clip the holder into your car’s air vent to easily charge. The charger comes with a USB-C cable for easy setup, though you may need to purchase an adapter to use it in your vehicle.
Nice-to-Have Tech for Your Next Trip
Of course, not every piece of car technology is a “must-have.” Some just make it easier to travel in style.
Power Inverter: Bestek 300wr ($47.99; amazon.com)
If you plan to use your laptop while your traveling companion drives, a power inventor like the BESTEK 300Wr keeps your battery fully powered for the duration. You can also use it to power a portable game system, like the Nintendo Switch, to keep the kids busy on long rides. Lightweight, compact and powerful, the BESTEK 300W Pure Sign Inverter includes two AC outlets and two USB charging ports.
Heated Seat Cushion ($34.95; amazon.com)
Many luxury cars or higher-end trim packages on midline cars come with heated seats for a touch of luxury during your drive. But lately, vehicle manufacturers have been foregoing this amenity due to the silicon chip shortage. But you don’t have to go without – just grab a set of affordable heated seat cushions like the HealthMate IN 9438 Velour Seat Cushion with lumbar support and place it in your vehicle. Providing warmth up to 114 degrees, with high / low temperature control, the cushion plugs directly into your car’s DC power adapter.
Car Vacuum Cleaner ($36.99, originally $39.99; amazon.com)
There’s nothing like starting a road trip with a clean vehicle and a full tank of gas. Fortunately, one of these perks costs less than $40! (Spoiler alert: It’s probably not the fuel…). This portable, high-power mini handheld car vacuum cleaner from THISWORX picks up crumbs, dust, dirt, sand and even pet hair in minutes. It even has a HEPA filter to catch allergens and plugs into your car’s 12V outlet for continuous power. Its 16-foot cord lets one easily reach the backseat or trunk without a struggle. The vacuum comes with three attachments to reach every corner of your vehicle as well.
Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.